February 29, 2008

Proto-Bohemian Gustave Courbet arrives at the Metropolitan

Courbet would be glad to know that everyone's still talking about him. In the NYTimes, Roberta Smith writes that Courbet only grudgingly accepted the title of Realist. "Even in front of his most realistic work, you often find yourself wrestling not so much with lived reality, as with the sheer — very real — uncanniness of painting itself. Observe the shifting veils of palette-knifed pigment in 'The Stream of the Puits-Noir,' from 1855, which almost turn abstract. And Courbet’s is a continually shape-shifting uncanniness that mixes not only genres and styles, but also sexes, proportions and spatial logics with a subtle visual irony that might as well be called postmodern as modern." Read more.

In Newsday, Ariella Budick finds the show deeply engaging and reports that Courbet may have been the first painter to realize how handily shock could be parlayed into triumph. "Well before Paris Hilton's antics, Lenny Bruce's profanity, Stravinsky's dissonant assaults and Oscar Wilde's silver-tongued eroticism, Courbet realized that succès-de-scandale was a terrific alternative to slogging through a reputable career. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's deeply engaging and utterly fascinating retrospective makes it clear that Courbet was a mercurial talent who could paint with grace, feeling, subtlety and eloquence - and just as often buried his gifts beneath muddy coats of pigment. Especially early on, in the 1840s and '50s, when he deployed deliberate awkwardness to steal the attention he flamboyantly craved. " Read more.

In the Star-Ledger, Dan Bischoff says that Courbet was the first artist in history to define himself in his press clippings, deliberately courting scandal to advertise his art. "More than 130 paintings and drawings by the radical artist have been brought across the pond to the Met, where they are joined by dozens of contemporary photographs, mostly images of the serial self-portraitist himself, along with more than a score of female nudes, some of them the 19th century version of pornography....Peculiar as the subjects often are, they can be, once you get to know them, as densely packed with meaning as any contemporary Conceptual art work. In fact, their very strangeness arises from the painter's determination to make his work more interesting to talk about than it is to see." Read more.

"Courbet," curated by Laurence des Cars, Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Gary Tinterow, and Michel Hilaire. Original venue: Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Traveling to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Feb.27 to May 18; Musée Fabre, Montpellier, June 13 to Sept. 28.
Related post: Courbet retrospective in Paris

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